Here’s a bit of trivia for our fellow Bakersfieldians: Did you know that Punjabi is the third most spoken language in our city? While most Sikhs and Punjabi speakers are tucked away in southwest Bakersfield, our population continues to expand and we continue to grow in all aspects of community life.

While Sikhs have lived in Kern County for over a century, few of our neighbors know much about us and our language.

Punjabi is one of only 16 languages in California with over 100,000 speakers, far higher than more well-known languages such as Italian, Hmong and Portuguese. The growth of Punjabi in California shouldn’t be unexpected, as it is the 10th most spoken language in the world with over 100 million speakers across the globe.

Now our own residents of Bakersfield will have the opportunity to learn Punjabi. For the first time in Kern County, an Asian language will be offered by the school district.

Becoming a global citizen is the trend of the future and nowhere is that globalism more evident than in our neighborhoods in Bakersfield. The course will be offered beginning in the 2018-19 school year at Ridgeview High School.

This news is not just groundbreaking for the Wolfpack, but for the entire city of Bakersfield. It is an example of the school understanding the needs of the local community it serves. It provides an opportunity for both Punjabi heritage speakers and, judging by other similar programs across the state, large numbers of non-Punjabi students to learn a new language, share in the culture of their neighbors and open their eyes to a new world.

It also is a formal recognition of the importance of Punjabi in the shaping of our community here in Bakersfield. Translators, interpreters, businesses and other professionals will have gained from the program and contributed to the city in the years to come.

The Jakara Movement, a local Punjabi youth leadership nonprofit group, first proposed the Punjabi course offering to the Kern High School District School board of trustees, and the board took particular interest. It was with the support of KHSD trustee Jeff Flores that the vision for this proposal was given a more definitive outline.

A community petition saw nearly 1,500 signatures of support in a single day! With the leadership of Ridgeview High School’s principal, Steve Holmes, the Jakara Movement was able to closely work with him in bringing the vision of this course to life. The goal is to begin the course in fall 2018.

A campus that reveres its cultural diversity, Ridgeview has tapped into the rich diversity within its school community, and the larger Bakersfield community, in recognizing the value of institutionalizing the Punjabi language program. Ridgeview holds a unique ecosystem, maintained and further cultivated as conscious efforts are made in investing in the culture of the campus. This is exemplified in establishing the Punjabi language course.

Moreover, Ridgeview recognizes the direction in which the future of education should be headed. Foreign language course offerings strengthen educational systems, enriching the experience of all students. It makes students worldly without having left their homes. And language programs create jobs. Students who take Punjabi at Ridgeview will then be able to pursue careers as translators and cultural interpreters; they can implement their bilingual skills in whatever workplace they seek. They will carry an immeasurably valuable asset with them to every workplace and avenue they explore.

Now, in addition to Spanish and other language options, students will be able to take Punjabi as a recognized foreign language course. Numerous studies have shown that academic performance and student confidence increases when institutions affirm their cultural and heritage knowledge.

Ridgeview will be joining seven other California high schools that already have curriculums for Punjabi language instruction. These schools are in cities such as Fresno, Kerman, Livingston, Yuba City, Live Oak and Union City. Kern County now adds its name as one of the trailblazers in the state in the teaching of an increasingly important Asian language.

Manpreet Kaur leads as a community organizer for the Jakara Movement, a local Sikh and Punjabi youth leadership nonprofit group.